Got the Bad What-Ifs?
Updated: Jun 1
I hope this finds you doing as well as you can during these strange and trying times. In today’s article, I would like to share some ideas on managing worry, or what is known as “what-if” thinking.
Right now we are dealing with a lot of uncertainty about our safety, economic health, and so on. As humans, we have the unique capacity among earth’s creatures to mentally rehearse various negative scenarios in advance in order to prepare for them. Indeed, a certain amount of worrying is necessary for survival.
The problem with too much “what-if” thinking is that it turns into “as-if” thinking as the subconscious mind does not get the difference between real and vividly imagined. Anticipated events can trigger the same flight or fight response in the body as actual ones can. And apart from the wear and tear stress places on the mind and body, it’s fairly well-established good decision making does not take place in a state of FEAR.
There are some options that can help you mitigate excessive worry. One is to practice mindfulness or the art of being more fully present in this moment. It enables you to adopt an observer position regarding your thoughts and feelings so that you can recognize that what you are worried about isn’t really happening right now and as a saying I like goes, “as long as I’m breathing, I’m OK.”
(I have a free audio program that will guide you through a simple mindfulness practice you can access here: https://www.njhypno.com/client-resource-page)
Another practice you might want to consider involves emulating what lucky, optimistic people do. In his groundbreaking book, The Luck Factor (2003), psychologist Richard Wiseman identified what distinguishes lucky people from those who are the opposite. A highly recommended read, it reveals that being lucky isn’t due to paranormal forces, rather it relates to a specific mindset and behaviors.
One factor he identified is that lucky people see adversity as temporary and expect that things will improve in time-which they always do. Unlucky/pessimistic people have the opposite view, that bad events are permanent and prove that life is unfair.
One can imagine that the “what-if” thinking of many people right now is something like:
“What if the economy never recovers?”
“What if things never get back to normal?”
“What if I can’t handle all these changes?”
Note too that the subconscious mind will reflexively try to answer any question you pose to it. If the concern we have has an answer to it, then the worrying decreases, and we are better prepared for a potential challenge. But the wrong what-if types of question will automatically flood your mind with worst-case scenarios as it provides answers that don't provide solutions but magnify fear and distress.
Also, keep in in mind that your deeper intelligence assumes that the questions you are posing to it are true or you wouldn’t be asking them. You wouldn't ask, "how do I get to the coliseum?" unless you thought it was possible to get there. Can you see how believing that things will never improve and that you won’t be able to cope will ramp up your stress level?
However, with a little imagination, you can turn this response around by asking optimistic, positive what-if questions. Examples:
“What if I find a way to thrive in spite of these circumstances?”
“What if I discover I am stronger than I realize and pleasantly surprise myself?”
“What if what I am worried about never actually happens?”
“What if things turn out better than expected?”
"What if I have a really good day ahead of me?"
You might want to physically write down one or more questions like this on a notecard or a computer document and refer to them frequently as a self-empowerment practice. Especially when you are feeling stressed or anxious.
If you have any questions, including learning how we could work together, please feel free to give me a call at (732) 714-7040.